Lucia Elizabeth Vestris, by Robert William Buss (1833). Image credit: The Garrick Club Collections

Lucia Elizabeth Vestris (3 March 1797 – 8 August 1856) was an English actress and a contralto opera singer.

Vestris was a patient of Frederick Hervey Foster Quin. She was married to fellow actor Charles James Mathews, and she was a friend of Dionysius Lardner Boucicault.

She was born Lucia Bartolozzi in London, the daughter of Gaetano Stefano Bartolozzi and granddaughter of Francesco Bartolozzi, the engraver.

In 1813 she married French dancer Auguste Armand Vestris, who deserted her four years later. Her contralto voice and attractive appearance had gained Madame Vestris her first leading role in Italian opera in the title role of Peter Winter’s II ratio di Proserpina at the King’s Theatre in 1815.

She had immediate success in both London and Paris, where she played Camille to Talma’s Horace in Horace.

Her first hit in English was at Drury Lane in James Cobb‘s Siege of Belgrade (1820).

She was particularly a favourite in “breeches parts,” like Cherubino in the Marriage of Figaro, and in Don Giovanni, and with such introduced songs as “Cherry Ripe,” “Meet me by moonlight alone,” “I’ve been roaming,” etc.

In 1831, having accumulated a fortune, she became lessee of the Olympic Theatre, and began the presentation of a series of burlesques and extravaganzas – for which she made this house famous.

She married Charles James Mathews in 1838, accompanying him to America and aiding him in his subsequent managerial ventures, including the management of the Lyceum Theatre and the theatre in Covent Garden.

They inaugurated their management of Covent Garden with the first known production of Love’s Labour’s Lost since 1605; Vestris played Rosaline. In 1840 she staged one of the first relatively uncut productions of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, in which she played Oberon, beginning a tradition of female Oberons that lasted for seventy years.

Her last appearance (1854) was for Charles’s benefit, in an adaptation of Delphine de Girardin‘s La Joie fait pour, called Sunshine through Clouds, and she died in London.

Her musical accomplishments and education were not sufficient to distinguish her in grand opera, and in high comedy she was only moderately successful. But in plays like Loan of a Lover, Paul Pry, Naval Engagements, etc., she was delightfully arch and bewitching.

Lucia Vestris died on 8 August 1856 at her home in Fulham, and is buried at Kensal Green Cemetery, London.